DNF: my first attempt at an ultramarathon

As promised, here’s the update from my first attempt at an ultramarathon (and my first race). In short, I failed. The race was 33.4 miles, and I made it 22.3 before my body shut down and gave me the finger. If you want more detail than that, read on.

I was credited with finishing the 25K...

I was credited with finishing the 25K…

…but the 12-year old who was branding the plaques wanted to make sure I remembered that I DNF (Did Not Finish) the distance I had signed up for.

…but the 12-year old who was branding the plaques wanted to make sure I remembered that I DNF (Did Not Finish) the distance I had signed up for.

First, I have a confession to make. I lied about my training plan/progress to everyone who asked. If you’re one of the many friends or family who asked how long my longest training run was, the answer I gave you was somewhere in the 19-22 mile range depending on what number popped into my head first. Don’t be offended – I had a good reason for the deception. Frankly, it was easier to say that and move on with the conversation than to explain that after working up to a single 11.61 mile jog about 3.5 months ago, my knees were in such agony that I had to drastically reduce my mileage and just hope for the best on race day. I tried the honest answer a couple times, but the raised eyebrows, verbalized doubt, and unsolicited advice were annoying.

I really didn’t know what was going to happen yesterday, and I didn’t go crazy with race prep. I ate a lot of donuts and pizza in the days before, because obviously I wasn’t going to miss out on the most enjoyable part of whole ordeal: CARB-LOADING! I drank a bottle of wine and ate fish tacos the night before, simply because I like wine and fish tacos. I might stick with just a glass of wine next time though…

Saturday morning dawned windy and wet, and we started the race in the dark. The 50K course is two 16.7 mile loops with five aid stations per loop. The first 5.5 miles and the last couple miles are hills…hills, hills, and more hills. The rain that had soaked the trails for the preceding 24 hours had turned everything into a muddy mess – people were slipping, falling, and occasionally losing shoes. I had never attempted to run terrain that challenging, and it took everything I had just to stay upright and keep moving.

My running shoes AFTER a round of cleaning and scraping. It was a muddy race.

My running shoes AFTER a round of cleaning and scraping. It was a very muddy race.

I finished the first 16.7 mile loop in just under three hours, and I was actually feeling pretty good. I started the next circuit, and my second round on those hills destroyed me. My upper legs started cramping on the downhills, and my pace slowed dramatically. I fell in with two ladies named Janet (J-Squared), and we stumbled our way up and down the rolling terrain together until we reached the aid station at 5.5 miles.

Course map with aid stations marked. Not shown: all the damn hills and mud.

Course map with aid stations marked. Not shown: all the damn hills and mud.

At this point, the course leveled out for about 8 miles, and I was feeling pretty good about my chances of completing the race in under 8 hours. I took about 10 minutes to stretch, hydrate, and eat some food, and then Janet 1, Janet 2 and I continued down the trail at a slow jog. We had only gone about 100 yards when my vision suddenly got blurry and I dropped to my knees, vomiting up everything I had in my stomach. I limped my way back to the aid station to refuel and rest for a bit, but had only been sitting down for a minute or two when my vision got blurry again and I blacked out.

When I came to, people were freaking out and covering me in coats while the aid station manager propped my feet up on a chair. Apparently, my body had had enough and decided to shut down for a bit. The race director drove me back to the start/finish line, and just like that my race was done.

I’m really not too bummed about the way things turned out. I more than doubled the distance of my furthest training run, and I did it on some crazy trails in shitty conditions. I had tons of (Type 2) fun, got a sweet new tshirt, and learned a LOT:

  • For my next 50K, I’m going to have to find a way to train harder…something that doesn’t brutalize my knees. Elliptical? Biking? Suggestions are welcome!
  • A full bottle of wine the night before is probably not a great idea, although I didn’t actually notice any obvious adverse effects.
  • I need to start slower. My first lap time was fast and I was passing more experienced runners. A slower pace might have prevented my body from flaming out and shutting down.
  • Road running shoes are fine for dry trails, but a more aggressive tread would have been awesome for the muddy conditions.
  • Having a stoked and encouraging support crew to meet me at the aid stations was incredible – thanks Nate and Kaity!

Here’s to finishing the next one!

Testing a theory

So here’s the deal. This Saturday, the starting gun will boom at 0700 for the Surph The Murph 50K. It’s actually 53.75K, but who’s counting, right?

I am registered for that race, so I SHOULD be writing a blog post about my last few months of training, or maybe my nutrition plan. Instead, I’m contemplating putting my phone down for a minute so I can get a donut to go with this cup of coffee.

YoYo Donuts makes the best POF donuts you've ever wrapped your lips around.

YoYo Donuts makes the best POF donuts you’ve ever wrapped your lips around. Don’t question my dietary decisions, it’s four days till the race and I’m carb-loading. Duh.

Ahh, that’s better. So about this race…I stopped training about two months ago, and that was only about a month after I had started training. My knees, already rickety from a childhood bout with Lyme Disease, were producing such an exquisite brand of pain that I honestly couldn’t take it anymore. In the last sixty days, I’ve run exactly four three mile loops near my house and one grueling four mile hill run at Barn Bluff in Red Wing, MN.

That’s hardly the normal mileage you’d find in a “Run Your First Ultra-Marathon” training plan, and I very seriously considered just dropping out. However:

  • I already paid the entry fee
  • I want my race tshirt
  • The snacks at the aid stations sound delicious
  • I want to prove to myself that I can do it and then never ever do it again
  • I have nothing else going on Saturday

With those compelling arguments to prop up my resolve, I am going to show up and test my theory: that all of the wine, pizza, and donuts I’ve consumed and my decent all-around physical condition will allow me to run/limp/walk/stagger 33.4 miles of winding, hilly trails on Saturday morning. My main goal is to finish, but I’m secretly hoping to complete the course with a sub seven hour time.

Or maybe I’ll just make it to the first aid station and hang out by the fire eating PB&J sandwiches and GU and cheer people on. Either way, I’ll post something about the adventure on Sunday. Wish me luck!

Going Horizontal – Surf the Murph Ultra

The subtitle for my blog boldly declares the following:

A repository for thoughts, reports, pictures, and opinions about going vertical.

However, I haven’t really climbed since my ice climbing adventures to Switzerland and Canada in February and March, unless you count my Memorial Day Weekend misadventures in Washington. Oh, I’ve tied in at the climbing gym a few times, and I have lapped a few familiar pitches at Taylor’s Falls, but the desire just isn’t there right now. I know the reasons – there are two of them, and they’re both personal and likely wouldn’t be considered rational by most. The last few times I’ve thought about packing my rope and rack for a day of jamming and crimping, I either felt nauseous or my eyes starting misting. I know myself well enough not to force it, and I needed a distraction in the meantime…something to keep me busy, un-fat, and something that gives me time and space to think.

BASE jumping was an option, but I don’t have the money for it right now. I’m SCUBA certified and there is some great diving in Lake Superior, but that’s not a great hobby for maintaining physical fitness. Mountain biking would require a financial investment that I don’t want to make at this point, so I settled on training for and running a race. Well, actually a marathon. An ULTRA-marathon. A goddamned thirty-one mile trail run on October 24th.

The course map for the Surf the Murph 50K ultra.

The course map for the Surf the Murph 50K ultra.

Here’s the problem: I’ve never run a race before, and I hate running.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the runner’s high after a long run, and I really appreciate the scenery when I’m running with (and slightly behind) an attractive female partner. I’m in decent shape, and I can fire off six miles without trying too hard. But the act of running itself? I hate it. I get bored easily, and I can’t stand listening to music when I run – it messes with my pace. I have rickety knees already, and I’m not sure what a three month training plan and a fifty kilometer trail run is going to do to them.

I wasn’t going to sign up for it at all, but then I had a bit of an epiphany. Don’t laugh, but this thought came while I was reading The Oatmeal’s excellent comic book The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances. He talks in the book about running being a form of practiced stoicism, and how the pain lends perspective to the problems and complications of everyday life. He writes about running to the point where the world seems to stand still and questions of why seem to melt away into insignificance.

The last few months have been wonderful in ways, but completely shitty in others. I lost two people I love dearly, one to death and one for reasons I still can’t understand fully. I could use some perspective, and some silence from the constant internal barrage of self-doubt and questioning. I crave clarity, and when I run the pictures seem a little less fuzzy. Things seem simpler, clearer, more decipherable. Maybe this is a knee-jerk reaction, and maybe I won’t even finish the damn thing. But I’ll pass out on the trail trying, and who knows – maybe I’ll find some answers along the way.

Sidenote: I know some of you are distance runners, and I clearly am not. Any tips or advice on training, pace, nutrition, cross-training, injury prevention, hydration, etc. would be greatly appreciated.